I blame Warren Ellis for what I did, and his God damn blog, but I am also thankful, very thankful.
It had been a fantasy of mine for years. It started when I was eight. I had been playing in the woods outside a friend’s house. I was climbing a tree. I remember how easy it was, my ape DNA doing its best to thrust me up into the branches. We’d sit up there and eat our pack lunches. We’d climb so high. Sometimes, we’d scale the tips of the highest branches and look out over the canopies, seeing the trees go on for miles.
Then one day I fell.
It was like a slide show, a terrible one at that. Snapshots of sky, ground, leaves and wood, peppered by stabs to the arms, legs and head as the tree did its best to catch me or maybe it didn’t and wanted to make sure I was as injured as possible when I hit the bottom.
I thought I was fine when I landed. I felt fine. My breathing quickened, but other than a few cuts that oozed blood and bruises that would last for weeks, I seemed okay.
I heard my best friend, Josh, expertly shimmy his way towards me.
“Are you okay?” he asked as he descended.
“I think so,” I replied, the adrenaline rushing through my body. It was a peculiar sensation, I hadn’t felt it before. I grinned up at him, feeling invincible, wanting to go even higher next time – if that was even possible.
He jumped the last few feet and stared. The colour drained from his face as if someone had taken an eraser and scrubbed as fast as they could.
“Your leg,” he said and promptly passed out.
“Oh yeah,” I replied, giggling.
I’d never seen a human bone before, never mind mine. It jutted out of my shin like a porcelain mountain rising up from my flesh. The blood glistened on its surface, a calcium volcano post eruption.
Without thinking, I brushed the splintered edge with my finger tip. A sharp pain that I didn’t know was possible shot up my leg and I joined Josh in the wonderful world of nothingness.
“Will they need to chop it off?” I asked my dad as we waited in the forest for the ambulance to arrive.
“I don’t think so,” he said, trying his best to look me dead in the eye.
I watched as his vision wandered.
“You can look if you want,” I said, not understanding the seriousness of the situation.
He didn’t so much as glance, and like Josh, the colour faded from his face. He didn’t pass out, though. Droplets of sweat beaded on his forehead, and he fought off the urge, staying strong for me.
I enjoyed the attention wearing a cast afforded me. Something odd had awoken in my psyche. I guess an adult would call it a fetish, but that would evoke some sort of sexual pleasure, and that was not it at all. Though seeing my body broken like that, it made me wonder. Wonder how much of me I could have removed and still be me.
I knew there was something wrong, that I was different. My parents told me otherwise, but I knew. You do, don’t you. Even at that tender age you can see through the warming platitudes. I was different from all the other kids.
After my leg had healed and I was back to school, I’d sit at my desk, hold my little finger, and bend it backwards as hard as I could. On many occasions, the teacher asked what I was doing, and I’d stop. My face would be red, scrunched up into a little ball, as slowly but surely my finger bent beyond the point at which pain became hot searing daggers. No matter how hard I tried though, my body wouldn’t let me finish, even when I tugged my finger by surprise as hard as I could.
I’d take turns between them, working each one more everyday. My classmates must have seen, as one by one they stopped hanging around with me. I knew it was because I was different and they didn’t understand.
My parents would see my bruises and tell me to stop. People would love me anyway. I really didn’t care what others thought. It was what I wanted.
I was rarely bullied. I think the last time that happened was when I was ten, and I pleaded with the bully (not mentioning any names – I still see him) to snap my fingers off. I even got down on my knees and begged. The confused look on his face would have been priceless if I didn’t really want him to do it.
By the time I was twelve, I had grown out of it. Maybe it was because of the many failed attempts, or maybe it had just run its course.
The only times in my late teens/early twenties when it even entered my mind was when I’d get drunk with my friends and I’d tell them what I’d done as a kid. I’d show them. They’d look away, laughing nervously, and tell me to stop. Occasionally, I was the show us your party trick guy. After so many years of practice, my fingers would basically bend all the way to the back of my hands, like someone with double-joints.
After I left college and got a job, I had all but forgotten, until I saw Warren Ellis’ blog. I loved his comics, and I’d read his website daily. One article in 2013 changed my life forever.
He had posted a link to an article where a man had removed the top part of his finger, surgically, at home. It had the before, during and after photos. It looked so simple. I’d never even contemplated doing that. So I did what anyone would do and for the rest of the night fell into the rabbit hole of the internet that caters for everything and anything. By the weekend I had bought a scalpel, surgical needle and thread, medical alcohol and recreational alcohol.
Pain is temporary, the article said. What it should have read was, pain is pain and pain gets painful. The first attempt ended up with a fistful of paper towel and a fifth of vodka. Over the next few days, everything healed. All that was left was a scar, a constant reminder of the failed attempt.
I left it at that for a while. But that fetish that burned so hot was now back like a roaring fire in the corner of my mind. My work suffered. I began pulling on my fingers nervously in meetings. I was taken aside one day to be told I was scaring the other employees. But he left it at that.
My hobbies ground to a halt, just like my work. Every day was a struggle. My mind was overloaded with my reignited passion. Until one day, I knew what I needed to do. I drank so much I blacked out.
I woke in the night to the smell of copper. My mouth was dry, my head spun. I felt sick and raced to the toilet. I breathed quickly as I held my head over the bowl, feeling my hand throb. With no memory of what happened, I saw the bandage wrapped around my little finger, a modest amount of blood had soaked through.
Huh I thought to myself curiously, as I saw that my finger was around an inch shorter.
Over the coming week I changed the bandage, and by three weeks, other than it being a miniature version of what it once was, sans nail, it looked the same.
By the time I had removed the whole finger, the pain didn’t bother me anymore. Pain is temporary. Like a goal that needs to be met. If you are confident of it, pain can be a reward. That’s how body builders get so large. That’s how athletes get so fit. You push past the pain to where you want to be.
My other little finger, I removed with a butcher’s knife. I enjoyed the crunch a little too much. I spent the evening sharpening the knife, checking it on the edge of my thumbnail, watching the sliver of keratin scrape away. It was sharp enough after a minute. But I was enjoying this now. It was an event. It wasn’t about the destination, it was the journey.
I had taken a lot of sick days, I didn’t want them to think I was a freak, any more than I was. I was impressed they allowed me so much time off. I told them I was having surgery, which was technically true.
I returned to work, with only small bandages on my hands. They were almost healed, but I hadn’t removed the stitches. I didn’t want people to see it until I was fully recovered.
When I did show them, I was proud. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a freak. I held them aloft when I didn’t need to. I wore an expensive watch, which I checked more than necessary.
My line manager took me to one side. “Good for you,” he said, “I could tell they bothered you.”
“Thanks, they did.”
Not everyone was so upfront about it. But those side glances and sneers were gone. I was no longer a freak externally. Four fingers and one thumb on each hand, just as nature intended. I’d achieved what I’d always wanted. To be normal.
Why didn’t I just get them taken off professionally, you ask? Have you seen how much that costs?
The problem is, I may have a fetish after all. I think I’m addicted. I’m thinking of removing my little toe, just one of them mind. You know, to see what it feels like. I never swim, I always wear shoes. Maybe I could remove the other, to stay symmetrical. No one gives a shit about those anyway. But what if that’s not enough? I don’t think that will be a problem, the forums are full of people who would love for me to help them.